July 2023
A young artist stands in front of a projected image. Handwritten words, scrawled in black marker, appear on the screen behind him and across his face. He wears a black turtleneck sweater and smiles into the camera.

ICI’s Art for All this month debuts a new exhibition—with a research twist—that presents a window into the daily lives and future dreams of youth with disabilities who are transitioning to adulthood. The exhibition, my life, began on July 26 with a program and reception featuring photos and other media images from participants in Minnesota, Singapore, and the Czech Republic.

Researchers, through special education teachers and others, asked youth with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (IDD) to create photographs, drawings, and video clips depicting some aspect of what is meaningful to them about this time of life. They then followed up with the artists, asking questions about why they chose their subjects and how it reflects their thoughts and lives, said ICI’s Renatá Tichá, who leads Minnesota and Singapore transition projects. Now, they’ll ask for feedback from viewers of the exhibit for their own impressions.

“We may approach art for its beauty or study it for a deeper meaning. Both of these things materialized for this exhibition,” said Nik Fernholz, Art for All program manager. “The students in Singapore address their stories pragmatically, documenting the everyday life that allows them to be independent. In Minnesota, the students give us a slice of their personal life: their pets, what they do at work, or the mural they walk by in the neighborhood park. The Czech students straddle both, approaching things realistically while using the backdrop of creativity to tell their innermost feelings. This exhibition will allow the viewer to pause and reflect on the small things in their daily life and how every human dreams of the future.”

The exhibition is displayed in the Blythe Brenden-Mann Community Center at the Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain, 2025 E. River Parkway, Minneapolis. It runs until Sept. 29.

“Very few research articles about transition have used photo elicitation in this way, so we wanted to incorporate the method into our work to look at transition from a different perspective,” Tichá said. “In Minnesota, we gave youth cameras for two weeks and asked them to photograph things that remind them of their transition experience, and many students focused on de-stressing, relaxing, and hobbies. In transition planning, we’re often obsessed with employment and post-secondary education. It was really refreshing to get out of the usual mantras and look at transition through their lens.” The work in Minnesota was part of a five-year Project of National Significance from the Administration on Community Living designed to increase the independence of youth in the state. In Singapore, youth with more significant disabilities were supported by their teachers and family members, who took photos of objects and places the youth indicated were important to them, as part of a joint Minnesota/Singapore project funded by the U.S. Embassy in Singapore.

In the Czech Republic, students created drawings and photos depicting their vision of their desired lives five years in the future, and then discussed them. Jan Šiška, an associate professor at the University of West Bohemia who collaborates frequently with ICI, and his colleague Marie Černíková, an artist and lecturer, designed that effort as part of a three-year Czech grant on transition funded by the Czech Science Foundation.

“One of the drawings is full of twists and turns, beautifully explained by the artist with an incredible contrast of cheerfulness and disaster,” Černíková said. “The artists depicted transition as everything they did, both the everyday and the possibilities.”

In turn, Šiška said, they provided important clues to researchers.

“There is huge potential in using these techniques in research for people with IDD who may have difficulties expressing themselves in traditional ways,” he said.